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The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Interior Design


Here, then, was a wide and reasonably lofty hall, extending through the whole depth of the house and forming a medium of general communication, more or less directly, with all the other apartments. --Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter)

[Hollywood, California's Linoleum City manager Susan] Mannes said sales of all of the store's natural products (linoleum [invented in 1863 from linseed oil, rosin, limestone, and wood or cork ingredients, with jute backing], cork, sissal) have increased since the early 1990s. --Candace Wedlan (2000:D1) 

Humane Habitat1. The practice of decorating an indoor space with lights, colors, landscapes, textures, animalsplants, and other natural objects found in the great outdoors. 2. The unconscious or deliberate act of bringing in the outside cues of Nonverbal World.

Usage: Nothing in our evolutionary past prepared us for a life lived almost entirely indoors, so we bring the outdoors in. Through ingeniously designed consumer products, we make home and office spaces look and feel more like the outside world our forebears knew. (N.B.: Adding the nonverbal signs of nature to the workplace makes it a more humane environment, and a more efficient habitat as well.)

Color I. "An East Coast factory gave its cafeteria a face-lift by painting its previously peach-colored walls a light blue. Patrons responded with complaints of being cold . . . . When the room was painted peach again, complaints stopped" (Vargas 1986:151).

Color II. "Think about the colors used by the fast-food chains in your area. There's not a cool color to be seen. In the Midwest, Wendy's, Colonel Sanders, McDonald's, Hardee's, A & W, Burger King--all keep people moving with reds, oranges, and rich browns" (Vargas 1986:151).

Cover. Our preference for having something behind our back when eating or resting (e.g., a partition or a wall) may be innate (Thorndike 1940).

Nonverbal reminders. People are happy when their work and play spaces duplicate features of the ancestral African plain. The best offices, e.g., provide obvious replicas as well as more subtle reminders of the original savannah habitat, including its warmthlightingcolorsvistas,textures, and plants. Flowers, cacti, palms, ivy vines, leafy shrubs, and fig trees are cultivated indoors today--for the outdoor look of yesterday.

Sky & sun signs. We keep our homes heated (or cooled) to 72 F.--the savannah average--and decorated with travel posters of oceans, mountains, and trees. We paint our ceilings in light colors to suggest the sky, leaving them unadorned to seem "bigger," "higher," and less enclosing.

Sunshine I. We crave the natural brightness of sunlight. From isolation experiments NASA found that we miss sunshine nearly as much as we miss the company of human beings. In offices without direct sunlight, pictures and drawings of the sun may be added as reminders of its heat, glow, and brilliance.

Sunshine II. The sun's power has been acknowledged in prehistoric pictographs and rock art throughout the world (Mallery 1972). Drawings of Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun and skies, still decorate the dark walls of ancient tombs. Set on a pair of wings, or upon the head of Ra himself, the round solar disk emblem works on the principle of a cubicle poster's tropical sun: to warm the traveler and cheer the dead.

Windows I. After sunlight itself comes the wish for a window, to see outside. Without reference to landscapes or the far horizon, workers in windowless offices may feel disoriented and disheartened. Industry studies suggest that staff members without scenic vistas are more apt to display art prints (depicting natural earth scenes) and to feel lower in status than colleagues with vistas and views.

Windows II. Hospital studies show that patients get well sooner, have shorter stays, require less painkiller, and receive fewer complaints from nurses when their rooms have pleasant landscape views (Bell et al. 1990).

Touch cue I. Too much smoothness may create a peculiar feeling of unreality. Foreign visitors to the U.S., e.g., have been advised to carry unfinished stones or pieces of natural wood to satisfy their primate cravings for texture, which urban America often seems to lack (Baldwin and Levine 1992). (N.B.: With so many man-made, smooth artifacts--from desktops to copy machines--an office environment may be the most unreal place of all.)

Touch cue II. Because large areas of our brain receive signals from nerves in the fingertips (see HOMUNCULUS), office spaces may stave off boredom and restore sensory awareness by adding an assortment of tactile signs, signals, and cues. Linen-embossed wallpaper, terra-cotta pots, natural stone facings, and walls of weathered brick, e.g., can add refreshing contrast to otherwise flat, featureless corporate surfaces. (N.B.: In 1973-74, Skylab 4 astronaut Gerald Carr spent 84 days in space. So boring was his drab workplace that Carr advised designers of the NASA space station, Freedom, to make future cabins as "natural" as possible with interesting colors, textures, and lighting.)

Touch cue III. Because they replicate the softness of mammalian fur, carpets seem "friendlier" than bare floors. A carpet's fuzzy nap stimulates sensations of "light" or protopathic touch. Protopathic cues travel in spinal-cord pathways that evolved earlier than the pathways for heat and pain. Thus, walking on carpets is more inviting to primate souls and feet than concrete, hardwood, or linoleum floors.
See also LAWN DISPLAY


Drawing of "Showing My Nonverbal Side" by my son Aaron Huffman (copyright 2012 by Aaron M. Huffman)